Tennessee Volkswagen Workers Petition for Union Election

Autoworkers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant. Image source: Bloomberg.

A “supermajority,” well over one half, of the 4,300 production and maintenance workers at the Volkswagen plant near Chattanooga, TN, submitted a petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Monday, March 18. The workers want the NLRB to schedule a secret ballot vote on April 17, 18, and 19 to determine if the United Auto Workers (UAW) will represent them as their union in negotiating a contract. The NLRB is holding a hearing this week to officially set the date of the vote and rule on any objections by the company.

According to the UAW, there are nearly 120 workers on the in-plant union organizing committee, composed of volunteer organizers working on all shifts in almost every part of the plant. UAW organizers have made a point to develop support from influential local organizations, like churches and community organizations. In 2019, the UAW failed to win majority support in a similar vote by a small margin. One reason is that they did not build a solid in-plant organizing committee and didn’t put much effort into winning support in communities where auto workers live.

Workers interviewed on local TV say that VW pays substantially less than auto workers make at unionized plants owned by auto companies like Ford and GM, and the benefits aren’t as good either. The company repeatedly imposes compulsory overtime and Saturday shifts. Workers say that the bosses make workers use a good deal of their paid time off during plant shutdowns for model changes and plant expansion. Plant management doesn’t take workplace safety seriously. Unsustainable workloads due to short staffing are also issues that pro-union workers aim to correct. Excessive workloads are part of how VW makes its big profits.

If a majority of the workers vote to be represented by the UAW, the company will be required to bargain over these issues. The workers’ desire to limit compulsory overtime will be an enormous challenge. Most current UAW contracts with Ford and other unionized auto companies allow management to impose weeks of compulsory overtime. To win big on their many demands about working conditions, VW workers will have to find ways to keep up the pressure on both the UAW leaders as well as on the company.